In light of recent tragedies, the most common question I’ve received these past few weeks is how do we respond when bad things happen? From the shooting in Las Vegas to multiple hurricanes to earthquakes to the loss of loved ones here in the community of Cave Creek, Arizona, people are hurting, struggling, stressed, and depressed. In this brief article, it’s my prayer to start the conversation to help people heal and restore their hope in Christ.
What We Can’t Answer
The one question we cannot answer but want to when people are hurting is why?. Why do tragedies happen? When specific bad things happen to specific people, we long for explainable answers. The problem with living in a broken world is that there are no easy, explainable answers other than we live in a broken world. For people who don’t believe in Christ, earth is suppose to be their “heaven.” The problem is that we know it doesn’t function that way. On the contrary, for those who believe in Christ, earth is the closest thing we’ll get to hell on our way to heaven. Filled with persecution, problems, and suffering, we can still have meaning and joy in this world as we long for the perfect heaven. We cannot say that every deserves what bad things happen to them. “Karma” does not explain most cases. Yes, some people face issues from their own choices. However, we all know people who suffer and battle circumstances that we would’t wish on our worst enemy. When a loved one has cancer, or loses their home in a hurricane, what did they do to deserve that? On the contrary, how many jerks of this world seem to have earthly possessions and good health? Where is God when evil happens? How can God even exist when there’s evil in the world?
These are difficult questions, but let me ask a few more… How can you define evil without good? How can you define good without God? I believe we struggle with evil and suffering because we’ve been made for something more. We long for a day when there will be no more mourning, sickness, cancer, evil, and death. That day is coming, but it won’t be here until Revelation 21:4. We long for heaven and for perfect relationship with God and each other. And while God hasn’t completely wiped out evil yet, He has done two things. First, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all the evil and sins in this world so that through belief in Him we could gain eternal life later (John 3:16; Romans 6:23) and abundant life now (John 10:10). Second, God has shown patience with us in that while every day gives an opportunity for evil to rise up, it also gives another opportunity for people to choose Him.
2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
For those who call themselves Christians, what if God returned to earth the day before you got saved? Every day is a gift and a chance for more people to come humbly before God.
So if we can’t answer the question why?, what can we do to help people who are hurting?
5 Things To Give People Who Are Hurting
A baby cries with the hopes that someone will hear them. When we cry we can take comfort that God not only hears us but He cares when we are scared. Jesus wept with those who were hurting (John 11:35). I don’t see examples of sympathy, comfort, and empathy in any other form of religion. The fact that Jesus came down to earth, lived here for 33 years and died on a cross for our sins demonstrates just how far He will go to reach us. God continually shows His people that He is with them. Before Joshua took the people into the Promised Land, He encouraged Joshua to be strong and courageous for He was with him (Joshua 1:9). God came to Elijah in a cave in the middle of no where through a whisper, signifying that He was close (1 Kings 19). David wrote in Psalm 62:8 that God is our refuge. Jesus calls to all who are weak and weary to come to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28-30). The boldness of the disciples in the middle of persecution came from the fact that God was with them to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20). The best thing you can do for a loved one who is hurting is to simply BE THERE WITH THEM. Presence with people is the first step toward renewed hope and healing.
Emphasis on presence is the key to bringing support and comfort to loved ones who are hurting in tragedy. When they eventually get to the place of “what’s next?” in their journey, offer simple encouragement and perspective. When someone is crying is not the time to quote Romans 8:28 (instead grab the tissue box, mourn with them, or look for practical ways to serve), but after the initial suffering is over we can offer encouragement that God does work all things for good for those who love Him. Since God works all things for good in the end, if it’s not good, then it’s not the end. Death has a way of reminding us that life is but a mist (James 4:14). This reality could open up discussions to more spiritual things.
For God did not give us a Spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). God is with us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). Power, love, and self-control are key to overcoming our battles with suffering. God gives us strength for the purpose of endurance and patience (Colossians 1:11). He also gives us the freedom to come to him with our struggles, complaints, and hurts. Over a third of the Psalms are Lament Psalms, in which people cry out to God for help. Ultimately, God gives us perseverance through His example in which He overcame the world (John 16:33). If you’re struggling right now, take courage, take a step, and trust God with your future path.
Tragedies have a way of helping us focus on what’s important in this life and why we’re here in the first place. I’ve never heard someone at the end of their life say, “I wish I had watched more Netflix, worked overtime at my job more often, and been on social media constantly.” Repeatedly, when people are faced with difficult situations we turn to God, family, and friends. We want our legacies to be how we impacted people and loved others. God has given us the purpose to love Him, love others (Mark 12:30-31), go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and to give Him glory in everything we do (Colossians 3:17). I would not choose any bad things to happen to anybody, but I believe God can USE and REDEEM bad things into godly testimonies and amazing stories that provide hope to others. If you’re in a situation you wouldn’t choose, don’t lose the opportunity to use this situation to bring back to God and to help someone along the way. Finding purpose in your life helps move one past surviving to thriving moving forward.
Finally, while we can’t answer the question why?, I believe can offer and encourage people to have priorities that help them answer the question where do I go from here. Let me share with you four simple priorities can shape someone’s life after tragedy:
- LIVE – in a manner worthy to God (Ephesians 4:1)
- LOVE – because God first loved us (1 John 4:11)
- LEARN – because we’re called to grow mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually (2 Timothy 3:16)
- LEAD – by serving, with Jesus as our example (Philippians 2; John 13)
The bottom line is that when people go through difficult times, they either try to DEADEN or DEEPEN reality. Activities such as drinking, drugs, cutting, looking at pornography, and isolating oneself leave a person further away and disconnected from the real world. They can give temporary relief, but you will wake up the next day feeling empty, guilty, and desirous to do more of the same destructive behavior. On the other hand, activities such as prayer, worship, reading your Bible, joining community, and serving actually deepen reality by connecting you with other people and with God.
While you might not be able to answer the question why? you can offer presence, perspective, perseverance, purpose, and priorities. I hope you found this article helpful. Please share with anyone whom you think could benefit from these five thoughts.
High School Pastor
North Ridge Community Church